Friday, February 20, 2009

I've been Rockboxed


I'd been thinking about getting an MP3 player for a while. All my family members had iPods of various shapes and fashions, but something about Apple's aura of lemming-like cool turned me off. Then one day I got an email flyer from NewEgg selling a refurb Sansa e250 2GB mp3 player for $25 -- free shipping!

How could I resist?

There are a ton of these e200 series Sansa refurbs out there, almost always cheap, being sold by various discount electronic shops, including NewEgg, Buy.com, and even Sansa. Some are 2GB, some are 4GB; occasionally you'll see an even larger one. While not as sexy as the ubiquitous iPod, they have a sturdy utilitarianism about them that I find appealing

Part of the appeal of these little gizmos is they have a micro SD expansion slot. Here's where it gets complicated. Older (version 1) models only recognize the SD micro card, maximum 2 GB. The newer (version 2) models recognize the SDHC microcards, which come with up to 16GB of storage.

So I ordered. And got the version 1: maximum 2 GB.

Fear not! Rockbox to the rescue.

Rockbox is a 3rd party open source firmware replacement that you can install on any supported devices that gives you a much greater array of functions and options. One of these is that it will recognize the higher capacity chips (though you have to load the chips from a flash memory reader then insert it, since you cannot yet use Rockbox to sync up your music -- still a small price to pay). In a great bit of additional irony, Rockbox does not yet run on version 2 Sansa player--and this includes most of their current product line.

So besides the ability to use larger external chips, what does Rockbox give you?

  • Much more sophisticated sorting and search
  • Support for album cover art (.bmp files)
  • Support for additional audio formats, including ogg, wma (though not DRM encumbered), wav and flac
  • Themes for the user interface
  • Plugins and games - including Sokoban, Jewel Quest, Frozen Bubble and, of course, DOOM.
  • Bootloader, which allows you to boot into the original factory firmware (which is necessary for some basic tasks)

Now granted, Rockbox is not for everyone. It does require a bit of a hacker mindset, since with such an expanded feature set, things are a bit more complicated. And currently you can't charge the device or load music without booting to the original firmware (which is easy to do).

Rockbox supports a number of (usually older) devices, including older iPods. I recently inherited my youngest son's 30GB iPod classic and stuck Rockbox on it. Apple junkies see it and feel the ground shift beneath them. I love it.

Sound interesting? Got an older mp3 player stuck in a drawer you aren't using? Go to the Rockbox web site or Wiki and see if it's supported. While I wouldn't put this on a device I was going to give to my intelligent but non-technically minded spouse, if you are of an inquiring nature -- by all check it out.

I love my Sansa, and now I love it even more.

4 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

When I need to hear music I sing. It's more eco-friendly than a gizmo.

Dr Ralph said...

I sing too but I'm told that's not very eco-friendly either (something about noise pollution).

Dr Ralph said...

Mr. Bananas -- great blog you've got. I've added you to the blog roll!

Gorilla Bananas said...

Thank you, Dr Ralph, I shall return the favour.

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